Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sept Lunch Recap: The National Zoo is about more than just cute animals!

OK, so this has nothing to do with the lunch, per se, but I just have to start by saying that before the lunch began I was joking with the Zoo and FONZ staff about how I'd never seen the orangutans using the zip line. And low and behold, halfway through the lunch, we hear children squealing. I turn around and there are 3 ORANGUTANS using the zip line! It was very cool.

Of course, my blogging about the warm and fuzzy orangutan appearance totally undermines one of the major points made by the staff yesterday. So everyone listen up...

The National Zoo is about a lot more than just cute animals!

Did you know that the Zoo has more than 100 scientists working beyond the zoo walls? These are people in other countries working on research about conservation and species preservation. How cool is that? I never knew that. I assumed Zoo employees were at the zoo. It's no wonder this is one of the Zoo's biggest challenges. After all, how many newspapers really cover science these days? I think the Washington Post dedicates maybe two pages a week to science. So spreading the word about the SCIENCE being done at the Zoo is a huge challenge for the staff there. The staff works really hard to try and use the "cute animal" stories as a foray into larger stories about wildlife appreciation and conservation. One way they do this is by making sure they have the right experts available to talk with reporters. (Any other suggestions for them on how to do so? I'm sure they'd be happy to hear them.)

Other lessons learned:

-- Stats are important. Even more important is having the right stats. When an animal passes, often the numbers that are given are the maximum life span of a certain species versus the average life span. And there just isn't reliable data for many species about life span. (To combat this issue, officials at the National Zoo are working with officials at the Lincoln Park Zoo to standardize language and data.)

-- It's very difficult to do strategic communications planning with a "living" institution. Between births, deaths, and the other dynamic aspects of having animals as your main topic, you can't really plan for what stories you're going to pitch when.

And totally unrelated to communications, but still a funny part of the presentation:

-- People are panda crazy! (OK, not that surprising.) On the panda cub's third birthday, the Zoo received 900 unsolicited birthday well wishes. (Seriously, people are crazy about pandas. The Zoo now offers panda alerts and have more than 2,000 people who are signed up. And 1,000 people paid to buy panda wallpaper for their computers. Not to mention the emails they received asking if the pandas in China were okay after the earthquake...)

And now on to my totally unsolicited sales pitch for the Zoo...

The Zoo communications team doesn't have a lot of money to accomplish what they do. Seriously, folks, they need help. The National Zoo hosts 10 major events during the year. There are family-friendly events -- like the Halloween trick-or-treat, "Boo at the Zoo," and the popular winter lights festival, "ZooLights" -- as well as events such as Valentine's Day's "Woo at the Zoo." Benefits are the usual sponsorship items -- logos on programs, banners, direct mail, web, etc.

You need to have your organization sponsor them. Anyone who's interested, contact Jackie Vinick, Corporate Partnerships & Promotions Manager, Friends of the National Zoo, at 202-633-3046 or vinickj (at) si (dot) edu. (And if you contact Jackie, let her know I sent you.)

-- Robin

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